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No ordinary biographer is Marchette Chute. Her's is the rare gift- rare that is in a scholar- of capturing time and place so completely that her readers are translated into the century and the locale against which her central figure moved and had his being. This I felt in Groffrey Chaucer of England, in Shakespeare of London. I wondered whether the same miracle could happen again with that-to-me-shadowy figure, Ben Jonson of Westminster. I should not have doubted. For here is another London, the London of the court, as well as again- slightly later than before, the London of Shakespeare and his world of theatre. And Ben Jonson is no longer a shadow, but a ""lively man"" summed up in the simple inscription on the stone that marks his resting place, ""O rare Ben Jonson"". Humbly born, gifted even in boyhood so that he seized and expanded on the limited classical education he was granted, Jonson's ambition was early formed and throughout his excant life proved a controlling force,- to impose on the literary scene the forms, the techniques, the clarity of the classics he loved. In plays, in verse, in epigrams, in masques- this was his goal. And despite the rowdy taste of the London populace, he succeeded, beyond expectation. He became Court writer, composing an endless succession of masques for special occasions through parts of three reigns. He was England's first Poet Laureate. He counted many successes in the public theatre. He was friend and enemy of most of England's literary and theatrical lights. He quarreled- but not for long. He was sentenced repeatedly to jail- and as often pardoned. He married and had children, but his life was not that of a Benedict -- but of a man of the Court, -- under Elizabeth's later years, under the whole reign of James I, under the start of the puritan Charles I. And always his vitality, his stubborn determination, his gift for mastery of his subject, his sustained high standards for himself and others, directed his life and his art. ....The chances for a wide popular market for this book are limited by the public's ignorance of the man. Those who know him as a symbol of his times, whose interest in the rich tapestry of theatrical history in those years, will claim the book as their own. At times it seems a trifle repetitive; at times the motion slows down overburdened by scholarship but in the main Ben Jonson overrides his remoteness from the current mood.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1953
Publisher: Dutton